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Safety: Maintenance and Rules

Playground safety extends far beyond planning and Build Day. Your team is responsible for setting guidelines for the ongoing TLC of your playspace, as well as setting some playground rules.

Playspace rules
General maintenance guidelines
Avoiding damage and vandalism
Final tasks and evaluation

Playspace rules

Creating a set of rules - preferably affirmative ones - is a crucial part of playspace safety. Start with these rules and then encourage children to come up with their own! Consider making a sign of these rules.

  • Wear proper footwear.
  • Respect others.
  • Take turns.
  • Help children who are younger.
  • Sit on the center of the swing and hold on with both hands.
  • Go down slides feet first, sitting up, one person at a time.
  • Check the bottom of the slide before you go down.
  • Always watch out for others while climbing up and down.
  • Dry off equipment after a rainstorm.
  • When jumping or dropping, keep your knees bent and land on both feet.
  • Stay seated on seesaws, and keep a firm hold with both hands.
  • If you fall, try to roll.

Tips for supervisors

Use these simple tips to educate parents and guardians about their role in playspace safety.

  • Become familiar with the age-appropriateness and proper usage of all playspace components. Don't let children wear helmets on play equipment! This can cause dangerous head entrapment situations.
  • Before playing, always check to see that the equipment and surfacing are free of dangerous debris. Postpone play if the area is wet or frozen.
  • Formulate and maintain a consistent discipline strategy: e.g. what to do when a child misbehaves, or when two children fight.
  • Keep children in your sight at all times; it's best if you remain active, roaming around the equipment.
  • In case of emergency, memorize the name and address of the playspace. Find out where the nearest phone is located.
  • Learn the procedure for reporting injuries, accidents, and maintenance concerns to the playspace owner.

Tip: When you picture your new playspace, do you see cigarette butts and plastic bags littering the site? Do you envision muddy streaks or moldy patches on the slides and tunnels? Of course not! Although it may seem minor, keeping the playspace clean is the first and most important line of defense against misuse, vandalism and deterioration.

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General maintenance guidelines

Daily/weekly inspections:
These informal checks can identify immediate damage due to weather, misuse or vandalism. It's also an opportunity to remove litter and rake loose-fill safety surfacing. Teachers, parents, staff and children are all ideal candidates for these inspections.

Periodic/bi-monthly inspections:
These comprehensive checks evaluate long-term wear and tear on the equipment; your play equipment company should provide specific guidelines. These should be performed and documented by someone specifically responsible for facilities maintenance: a facilities director, staff at the school or park, or members of a volunteer maintenance group.

Annual inspections:
These formal audits, which evaluate the overall safety condition of the playspace, are best done by trained professionals. Your local parks and recreation department, insurance carriers, and the National Recreation and Park Association can generally provide a list of Certified Playground Safety Inspectors (CPSIs) in your area. Annual inspections by a CPSI are mandatory in some states, so be sure to check your local regulations!

Ways to involve children in maintenance

  • Recruit responsible children to be part of a maintenance committee. They'll lead other children in carrying out and documenting daily or weekly inspections. Give the designated student a title that he or she will be proud of, and rotate the position to give several students the opportunity to participate.
  • Teach kids what to look for: splinters, loose hardware, broken equipment, graffiti, vandalism, litter, water puddles, and any debris mixed in with the surfacing. They can also check to see that all accessible routes are clear, and that the surfacing is evenly raked (be sure to check in high-use areas such as swings and slides).
  • Sponsor an individual, class or neighborhood competition: Who can pick up the most trash? Rake the biggest area of safety surfacing? Recruit the most volunteers for clean-up day?
  • Make maintenance a habit: Have teachers set aside a specific day and time that children will be responsible for checking equipment and cleaning the playspace.
  • Consider having at least one fundraiser per year that children can participate in, with the proceeds going to playspace maintenance.

Playspace management: Questions to address

Many old, run-down playspaces have fallen through administrative cracks for one simple reason - nobody knows who's in charge. Therefore, any comprehensive maintenance plan should assign responsibility for the different aspects of playspace upkeep and management. When creating your management plan, bring in all playspace stakeholders, and be sure to reach agreement on these important questions:

  • Who will be held accountable for timely cleaning and repairs?
  • Who will be responsible for documentation and record-keeping?
  • How should playspace damage be reported, and to whom?
  • How should vandalism or illegal behavior on the playspace be reported, and to whom?
  • What does the warranty cover?
  • What role will the play equipment company and/or installers play in ongoing maintenance?
  • If repairs are required, how will contractors be chosen?
  • Will volunteers be engaged in repair work? If so, how? Who will be responsible for organizing volunteer efforts?
  • How can we involve children and youth in the regular inspections, cleaning and maintenance of the playspace?
  • What do the relevant insurance policies cover?
  • What is the procedure for ordering equipment replacements through the original company?
  • In whose name will the maintenance fund be kept? How many people will have access to it?
  • Who will be responsible for playspace bookkeeping?
  • Who will be responsible for spending decisions related to the playspace?

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Avoiding damage and vandalism

It's everyone's worst nightmare...waking up one morning to find that your new playspace has been destroyed by vandalism or arson. There are planning considerations that can minimize the potential for damage - such as installing non-flammable engineered wood fiber - but ultimately, all playspaces are vulnerable. The single best way to protect your playspace from vandals is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Install overhead lights to discourage after-hours loitering, and report any undesirable behavior to authorities immediately, before it becomes habitual. Keep the area clean and free of litter. Get the neighbors involved - set up volunteer patrols on weekend nights, particularly during warm months. Ask the local police department to include the area in their regular rounds, and consider reaching out to potential vandals through positive youth programming. A park in Encinitas, Calif. installed R.V. hookups so that a senior citizen couple could live there free of charge, monitoring the park and making families welcome.

Even with the best prevention program, bad things can still happen to good parks. Respond immediately by cleaning up, re-painting, or re-building. It's still your park, so never give up on it! Including the entire community, including vandals and other past offenders, in the community-build process helps to give them a sense of ownership over the space and prevents future problems. Consider engaging local graffiti artists to design a mural to give them an opportunity to showcase their talents in a responsible way.

Show vandals that your will to rebuild is stronger than their will to destroy. Juanita Hatton of the Citizens' Congress of Nicetown (in Philadelphia) saw her playground destroyed three times, and each time she rebuilt. When people asked her why she kept going, she told them that she would outlast the vandals, because she believed in something. And she was right.

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Final tasks and evaluation

Thanks to your efforts, your community is now a better place for children and their families. Great work! You've shown people what can happen when citizens fight for positive change, and you've created a working model for future projects. To make sure that these seeds of change grow and blossom in the years ahead, we suggest taking a few simple steps toward maintaining your playspace and its network of supporters:

Introduce children to their new playspace.
As the concrete sets on your new playspace, kids will be eagerly waiting to pounce on the new equipment. Make sure that the kids stay off the equipment until the concrete has had time to set-up to 72 hours in some cases. Safety fencing and caution tape provide a barrier during this time, but supervision is also essential. Swings, slides and climbers need no introduction! However, children may not understand the limits of their new playspace. We've encouraged you to give safety and maintenance lessons throughout the project, and this is your last chance to reinforce rules and procedures before unsafe habits get underway. Work with your co-chair(s) and Children's Team captain to schedule a special playspace-orientation session that covers affirmative rules for the space, emergency procedures and simple daily maintenance. Then celebrate your success the right way...by playing!

Send thank-you letters.
Can you think of people who deserve a special thank-you for their hard work and support? Let them know! By taking the time to recognize them and make them feel appreciated, you ensure that they'll stay involved in your community in the future. For many people, the thrill of participating in a playspace build is the start of a lifelong commitment to service.

Evaluate your planning process.
If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently? What worked, and what flopped? Your experience will prove invaluable to community organizers down the road, so take the time to record your team's thoughts. (You'll find an evaluation form below.)

Contribute to a "Friends of the Playspace" group.
Your co-chair(s) or fellow team captains may be interested in forming an ongoing group to support your new playspace. Safety Team members can contribute by implementing maintenance procedures, maintaining relationships with sponsors and volunteers, and teaching each new generation of playspace users about proper safety.

The group will also need your safety expertise if and when they make plans to expand the playspace or enhance the site. Whatever future your playspace holds, safety will be an important part of it!

Congratulations on completing your build! You've made a big difference in the lives of your community members.

Team evaluation

Name of Team Captain:

      1. List the three most important objectives of your team.
      2. Did your team achieve its planned goals and objectives? If not, why?
      3. In what circumstances was your team especially effective?
      4. In what circumstances was your team not so effective?
      5. How much time would you guess an average team member spent on playspace planning per week?
      6. Regarding your team, what would you do differently next time, and why?
      7. What would you do exactly the same?
      8. Additional comments:

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